Cheerlead to Safety

Cheerleading guidelines released to help prevent injury and keep programs accountable

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) It's not all fun and school spirit for cheerleaders. The stunts these girls and guys do can lead to some serious injuries.

New guidelines were released by the American Academy of Pediatrics to ensure cheerleading programs have qualified coaches, medical care and injury protection like other sports.

They encourage cheerleading to be declared a sport across the US so that programs can get better access to medical care and injury surveillance.

"Get properly trained before doing stunts."

The guidelines, created in part by Jeffrey Mjaanes, MD, FAAP, FACSM, member of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness, cover injury prevention, how to create a plan for emergencies and watching out for injuries.

The guidelines include having:

  • a physical
  • qualified coaches
  • spring/foam floor or grass/turf to perform stunts

With proper coaching, the committee also recommends that all cheerleaders be trained in all spotting techniques.

Stunts should only be done after the skill is mastered.

"Most serious injuries, including catastrophic ones, occur while performing complex stunts such as pyramids," Dr. Mjaanes said.

"Simple steps to improve safety during these stunts could significantly decrease the injury rate and protect young cheerleaders."

Researchers found that of all the serious injuries among female high school athletes, 66 percent have come from cheerleading over the last 25 years.

About 26,000 injuries occur in cheerleading each year. Leg sprains and strains are the most common cheerleading injuries (at 53 percent).

Injuries to the arms come second at 21-26 percent, followed by head and neck injuries at 16-19 percent.

They also found spotting a cheerleader accounts for 23 percent of all injuries.

Tumbling makes up 14-26 percent, and falling from tall heights makes up another 14-25 percent.

Pyramids, where the cheerleaders stack on top of each other, make up 50-66 percent of the head and neck injuries.

Stunts are responsible overall for 96 percent of all concussions and closed head injuries in cheerleaders.

The committee also recommends cheerleaders be removed from practice or competition if they are suspected of having a head injury and cleared by a medical professional before returning.

Cheerleaders under a coach with little training or experience are more likely to get injured.

In addition, those that were injured in the past, have a bigger body mass or cheer on harder surfaces are also likely to get hurt.

Parents and school officials are encouraged to follow the guidelines and help develop an emergency plan.

The policies were released at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans earlier this week and online October 22. They will be published in the November 2012 issue of Pediatrics

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 24, 2012
Last Updated:
October 25, 2012